GPS and Supersonic Speeds

NovAtel OEM615Most GPS and Supersonic Speeds Don’t Mix

As if the cost of the zero pressure balloons is not enough, we have a real burden in using a GPS system that works at supersonic speeds and also one that worked above 60,000 feet. Yes, we want to do both so a standard GPS system will not work.

So Why the Limits?

It is not such a big issue these days as technology has moved on, but 10 to 15 years ago, this was a major deterrent to anyone wanting to use them in a missile. Unfortunately today, that is less of a deterrent as most people could easily source someone capable of updating the GPS firmware. None the less it is still a better and safer path to pay the manufacturer for a GPS system that has the limits removed. There are many manufacturers that can provide the product and some are harder to work through than others. This is often the result of a country’s regulations regarding export licenses. For instance, buying from Canada is simpler than buying from the US. It still takes a couple of weeks, but the opportunity to get a limited version for testing will allow us to swap out the limited version for the unlimited version prior to flight. As the system that we wish to use is available in Australia from a local distributor, it is very likely that we will buy from a company called NovAtel. Their product is the Receivers OEM615, although they have more expensive products that would do much more for us.

What are the Limits on Regular GPS Engines?

This from Wikipedia: CoCom is an acronym for Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls. CoCom was established by Western bloc powers in the first five years after the end of World War II, during the Cold War, to put an arms embargo on COMECON countries. CoCom ceased to function on March 31, 1994, and the then-current control list of embargoed goods was retained by the member nations until the successor, the Wassenaar Arrangement, was established.

In GPS technology, the phrasing “COCOM Limits” is also used to refer to a limit placed to GPS tracking devices that should disable tracking when the device realizes itself to be moving faster than 1,000 knots (1,900 km/h; 1,200 mph) at an altitude higher than 60,000 feet (18,000 m). This was intended to avoid the use of GPS in intercontinental ballistic missile-like applications. Some manufacturers apply this limit when both speed and altitude limits are reached, while other manufacturers disable tracking when only a single limit is reached. In the latter case, this causes some devices to refuse to operate in very high altitude balloons.

Can we get a Single Limited GPS Engine?

It is hard, but it is not impossible. If it was not for the manufacturers implementing an “or” function instead of an “and” function we could possibly manage to use a unit that would measure our speed and display GPS co-ordinates at over 60,000 feet (18km provided that our speed was under 1,900kph / 1,200mph). This is difficult as we may go over that speed limit. At that point the GPS output is usually nulled.  We need data at all times and do not want a blackout on our data. It will also let us say that we broke the sound barrier, but not by exactly how much. Thus we want a a fully unlimited module for the flight.

Other Factors

Ideally we would like to store our flight measurements. We will have telemetry and can store everything that is down-linked, but there is a risk in doing that. If we use a more expensive unit, then we can have “on-board ” storage. This is mission critical if the telemetry link malfunctions. The aircraft will still fly itself to the runway on auto navigation and we can try again if we have the gas and a second balloon.

Another issue is the rate of poling of the GPS data. We need more than once a second or we could miss our top speed by hundreds of kilometers and hour. This means simply poling of maybe 20 times a second. This rate is easily supported by our telemetry so we will get an instant top speed on the ground before it lands. Something that a basic unit will not be configured to do.

Specifications for the NovAtel Unit.

This is not the one that records, nor is it the top of the vibration resistant unit, but it is very well placed to do the job, after all, we can record the data on other equipment before it is sent to the telemetry system. The cost of the export License is probably $5K and the cost of the unit will be another $5K making a grand total of $10K. The Export License checks your usage of the device and makes sure that you are not a group building a missile for nefarious reasons.

The following from NovAtel’s documentation:

The dual-frequency OEM615 offers future ready, precise positioning for space constrained applications. Backward compatible with NovAtel’s popular OEMV-1 form factor, the OEM615 provides the most efficient way to bring powerful Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) capable products to market quickly.

Features

  • Increased satellite availability with GLONASS tracking
  • L1, L2, L2C, B1 and E1 signal tracking
  • GLIDE smoothing algorithm
  • RT-2®, ALIGN and RAIM firmware options
  • SPAN® INS functionality

Benefits

  • Proven NovAtel technology
  • Easy to integrate
  • Low power consumption
  • API reduces hardware requirements and system complexity

Attributes

System Type

Board

General Info

Length (mm)

71.00
Width/Diameter (mm)

46.00
Height (mm)

11.00
Weight (g)

24.00
Typical Power Consumption (W)

1.00

Constellation

GPS
GLONASS
Galileo
BeiDou

Tracking

Max Num of Frequency

Dual
SBAS
QZSS

Number of Com Ports

CAN Bus  2
LVTTL  3
USB Device  1

Performance

Accuracy (RMS)
Single Point L1 1.5m
Single Point L1/L2 1.2m
SBAS 0.6m
DGPS 0.4m
NovAtel CORRECT™
RT-2® 1 cm + 1 ppm

Designed with Performance and the Future In Mind

The OEM615 tracks all current and upcoming GNSS constellations and satellite signals including GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou and QZSS. It features configurable channels to optimize satellite availability in any condition, no matter how challenging. The OEM615 is software upgradable to track future signals as they become available. Maximizing satellite availability and optimizing GNSS signal usage now, and in the future, ensures consistent, high performance GNSS positioning.

– See more at: http://www.novatel.com/products/gnss-receivers/oem-receiver-boards/oem6-receivers/oem615/#sthash.caG8JrgA.dpuf

Dimensions 46 × 71 × 11 mm
Weight <24 g
Power
Input voltage +3.3 VDC ±5%
Power Consumption11
GPS L1/L2 <1.0 W
GPS/GLONASS L1/L2 1.1 W
all on 1.2 W
Antenna LNA Power
Input voltage 6 VDC-12 VDC
Output voltage 5.0 VDC
Max output current 100 mA

NovAtel OEM615COMMUNICATION PORTS
3 LVTTL up to 921,600 bps
2 CAN Bus12 1 Mbps
1 USB 12 Mbps
Pulse Per Second (PPS) output
ENVIRONMENTAL
Temperature
Operating -40°C to +85°C
Storage -55°C to +95°C
Humidity 95% non-condensing
Vibration
Random MIL-STD 810G
(Cat 24, 7.7 g RMS)
Sinusoidal IEC 60068-2-6
Bump ISO 9022-31-06 (25 g)
Shock MIL-STD-810G (40 g)
Survival (75 g)

Super Sale – 24 Hours Only

IMG_7340Super Sale – Weather Balloons, HAB Flights and More – 24Hrs

Live in Australia?

Tuesday 23th December 2014 4pm to Wednesday 24th Dec 2104 4pm:

We are, as always, raising funds for our Project ThunderStruck. Live in Australia and want weather balloons, want us to take your payload to the Stratosphere, or want to rent HAM radio tracking gear?

Sale Ends 4pm Wednesday 24th Dec 2015

Learn to Launch and Recover HABs

HABs? High Altitude Balloons. We can do just about anything. We can even take you along with us and show you how its done. It is the full course on flying payloads into the stratosphere. Just $500 per car and you drive your own vehicle – it must be in good condition and suitable for dirt roads.. We launch from west of West Wyalong in southern central part of NSW. The course is hands on and you will get to have a tracking radio in the car and be part of the recovery team. You cover all your own personal costs including road assistance coverage, etc.. You will also need a wireless enabled tablet – preferably Telstra connected and a mobile phone, again preferable with Telstra connectivity. Conditions apply. We may be flying this weekend. Maximum people in one car for the above price is three.

Balloons for Sale

We current have 30 x 100 gram balloons at $10 each + $15 delivery for 1 or 10. We have 2 x 500 gram balloons for $100 delivered in Australia by express post, a 350 gram balloon at $75 delivered in Australia express post and some older 3Kg balloons for $200 each – no guarantees. They are probably 3 years old, but that is all I know.

Helium

We can even rent you 3.4 cubic metre helium bottles (Size E) and balloon regulators. These need to picked up from and returned to Sydney and require substantial deposit of $700 per bottle fully refundable. At this stage it is cash only as we do not carry credit cards. It is also $2 per day per bottle after 1 week’s rental if overdue – conditions apply.

Radios, GPS, Cameras

The HAM radio equipment includes:

  • Yaesu GPS enabled APRS tracker VX-8 two way radio – VHF / UHF dual band
  • Byonics MT-400 APRS trackers – pre-configured with your call sign and SSD
  • GPS units for MT-400
  • Spot 2 and Spot 3 trackers
  • GoPro cameras with external connections for Lithium Iron batteries
  • Lithium Iron Batteries and charger
  • antennas

Send your Mascot or Sign to Near Space?

We can do it for $1,200, down for the sale from 1,500 and that was a special deal already – marked down from $3,000. Conditions apply.

Payment

Sale ends at 4pm Wednesday 24 December 2015 EDST

A 50% deposit must be made tomorrow (Wednesday) at a CBA branch OVER THE COUNTER to get this sale discount or goods with the balance on most items by Wednesday. This sale ends Monday at 4pm, but call me to negotiate a price after 4pm. For details on the rental of radio equipment and gas bottles – you can call me on 0467 545 755

Want to see when we have the next sale. Subscribe to our RSS feed to get our posts and be ready.

http://projectthunderstruck.org/feed/

Super Sale – 48 Hours only

IMG_7340Super Sale – Weather Balloons, HAB Flights and More – 48Hrs

Live in Australia?

Monday 17th November 4pm: We are, as always, raising funds for our Project ThunderStruck. Live in Australia and want weather balloons, want us to take your payload to the Stratosphere, or want to rent HAM radio tracking gear?

Sale Ends 4pm Wednesday 19th Nov 2015

Learn to Launch and Recover HABs

HABs? High Altitude Balloons. We can do just about anything. We can even take you along with us and show you how its done. It is the full course on flying payloads into the stratosphere. Just $500 per car and you drive your own vehicle – it must be in good condition and suitable for dirt roads.. We launch from west of West Wyalong in southern central part of NSW. The course is hands on and you will get to have a tracking radio in the car and be part of the recovery team. You cover all your own personal costs including road assistance coverage, etc.. You will also need a wireless enabled tablet – preferably Telstra connected and a mobile phone, again preferable with Telstra connectivity. Conditions apply. We may be flying this weekend. Maximum people in one car for the above price is three.

Balloons for Sale

We current have 30 x 100 gram  balloons at $10 each + $15 delivery for 1 or 10. We have 2 x 500 gram balloons for $100 delivered in Australia by express post, a 350 gram balloon at $75 delivered in Australia express post and some older 3Kg balloons for $200 each – no guarantees. They are probably 3 years old, but that is all I know.

Helium

We can even rent you 3.4 cubic metre helium bottles (Size E) and balloon regulators. These need to picked up from and returned to Sydney and require substantial deposit of $700 per bottle fully refundable. At this stage it is cash only as we do not carry credit cards. It is also $2 per day per bottle after 1 week’s rental if overdue.

Radios, GPS, Cameras

The HAM radio equipment includes:

  • Yaesu GPS enabled APRS tracker VX-8 two way radio – VHF / UHF dual band
  • Byonics MT-400 APRS trackers – pre-configured with your call sign and SSD
  • GPS units for MT-400
  • Spot 2 and Spot 3 trackers
  • GoPro cameras with external connections for Lithium Iron batteries
  • Lithium Iron Batteries and charger
  •  antennas

Send your Mascot or Sign to Near Space?

We can do it for $1,200, down for the sale from 1,500 and that was a special deal already – marked down from $3,000. Conditions apply.

Payment

Sale ends at 4pm Wednesday 19th November 2015 EDST

A 50% deposit must be made tomorrow (Monday) at a CBA branch OVER THE COUNTER to get this sale discount or goods with the balance on most items by Wednesday. This sale ends Monday at 4pm, but call me to negotiate a price after 4pm. For details on the rental of radio equipment and gas bottles – you can call me on 0467 545 755 or call 02 9789 2773 and leave a message if I am unavailable. You may have to ring for a while to go to the messaging service.

Want to see when we have the next sale. Subscribe to our RSS feed to get our posts and be ready.

http://projectthunderstruck.org/feed/

Fund Raising – Save the Cassowary

Rebecca McLaren, ABC North QueenslandCassowary to Near Space and ThunderStruck

We have been doing some fund raising and generating awareness of ThunderStruck. We have also been trying to generate awareness for other worthy campaigns too, using our balloon technology. Here is a recording made yesterday 14th November 2014 with Rebecca McLaren on ABC North Queensland radio. Paul Webster is being interviewed and mentions Project ThunderStruck. Paul has been instrumental in helping us in many ways and we are supporting him and the Cassowary in return. Listen to the recording and enjoy the fun of this awareness project. Learn about this amazing bird and its flight.

If you would like to learn more about Cassowary you can go to the Cassowary TV channel on YouTube. The link is below.

https://www.youtube.com/user/CassowaryTelevision

Below is the 10 minute interview on the project that was broadcast yesterday:

Below: See Paul Webster and a cassowary in this short introduction to Cassowary TV

About Jason – by his Father

IMG_3215A Father’s Point of View

by Robert Brand

There is no doubt that my son Jason has a talent. He is tenacious. Once he sets his mind to do something, he does not stop until he has it completed. Project ThunderStruck is one of those goals. He has the knowledge and experience in every aspect of the mission and although it seems daunting, he can put it together for a successful outcome. Let’s breakdown the stages of the mission:

  • Balloon flight to over 40Km altitude
  • Radio telemetry and control
  • Supersonic flight
  • Autonomous landing
  • Celebrations –  well we are all good at this, so enough said!

Balloon flight to over 40Km altitude

Jason started launching balloons with me at 9 years old and after the first flight and successful recovery he was hooked. As of the date of this post we have jointly launched and recovered 21 payloads including 2 in Croatia. He has battled large balloons with heavy payloads in 70kph ground winds and used 3kg weather balloons to take heavy payloads to 1/3 the way to space (33.33Km). He is the tracker and navigator that sits in the passenger seat while I drive. He has the tablets/iPads, phones, navigation systems and radio systems. I just get to do the driving. At 12 years old he is now a capable navigator comfortable on remote rural back roads, dirt tracks, farm roads and worse. Not bad for a city boy. I trust him to know his stuff and I now consider him to be a strong partner with me in the UpLift flights. He understands zero pressure balloons, and like me has yet to fly one, but I have no doubt that he will have the skill to make it happen when the time comes. The picture above shows Jason launching our first balloon and payload from Rankins Springs, NSW.

Radio telemetry and control

At age 9, Jason went and passed his Foundation Amateur Radio License test. He went to a course at Waverley Amateur Radio Club and passed his exam. The rest of the group studying were adults and some had to come back to try again and I am happy to say that they eventually passed. Jason now has his own HF radio at home and is learning advanced electronics. He has test equipment such as a spectrum analyser, oscilloscope, laboratory power supplies and a large number of radio systems to play with. He will be getting his advanced license soon enough. Until then he has to operate under the license of an advanced operator by his side. None the less he is capable of the work of building interfaces and items essential to his project.

Supersonic flight

Well, not many people have that experience and most UAVs are subsonic. There would only be a handful of people in the world that would have controlled a supersonic UAV. Jason will practice on simulations and some powered models to understand the responsiveness of the craft. He will get that experience before the event.

Autonomous landing

Salt Lake_1_main

We have a great sponsor – soon to be announced that will assist in educating Jason and me about their system. We may land on a salt lake marked with vegetable dye and Jason may take over the landing at the last minute. There is a lot to understand about the accuracy of autonomous landings, but autonomous flight will be simple. Why have autonomous flight. Simple, the site at which Jason breaks the sound barrier may be a long way from the landing site and he will have to travel there by car. He will place it in autonomous mode and then go to the landing site. The landing site might be a long way away as the Jet Stream can produce strong winds. Our balloons have experienced winds up to 230kph. Why take over the landing? It is simply the error that may exist in the GPS of altitude. If it is not accurate enough, Jason may have to intervene to ensure that it does not flare out will it is 10m above the ground or worse still 10m below the ground – that would make a big crunch after a magnificent flight. We will have to discuss native rights to the salt lakes and ensure that we are not stepping on indigenous toes with all of this. There are many aspects to consider, including ensuring we are not in trunk airline routes. Why a salt lake? Well, it may be easier than finding an airfield away from any population and it is flat all around. If you go off the runway, then it is still flat!

A quick Summary of the Project and Jason:

I had to recently summarise the project and Jason

Jason overheard me, his father, talking about the testing phases of a winged re-entry vehicle that we are building and the three testing phases: Transition to subsonic flight, return from space, de-orbit and land. He effectively “hijacked” the transonic testing phase. He proposed a zero pressure balloon to take the aircraft (code named ThunderStruck) to over 40km altitude and release it. He will pilot it remotely by radio control with a TV camera in the cockpit and instruments overlaid on the screen. He will “see” the view from the cockpit by wearing video googles as if he is there. Thunderstruck will reach speed of around 2,000kph before landing using nothing more than gravity. He has to demonstrate control at all phases of the flight.

Preparing for the Flight of ThunderStruck

Weather balloon burst

What a burst weather balloon should do! Disintegrate

ThunderStruck – Backup Preparations

Jason, our 12 year old pilot is no stranger to having to prepare for the worst and it is what we do every time we send up a payload. Our last flight of a balloon into the stratosphere was a case of just that. Two failures. One on launch and the second on decent. Each problem would be enough to cause most balloon payloads to be lost, but as part of our preparations, we carried two trackers for the one flight. This was a flight in preparation for our project and we are testing. We have had to cover our payload in the video. Our apologies.

Below: An artist’s view of the ThunderStruck aircraft under a zero pressure balloon (more on that another time) at 40km altitude. You may have guessed, I am the artist….. Note that on the ThunderStruck event, we will not be using weather balloons so there will be no unexpected explosions.

Balloon Flight with ThunderStruck

Failure One

The first failure was totally invisible to us. A massive downdraft. The first that we have ever encountered. Uplift-1, our first flight, started in an updraft and it rose at an incredible rate for the first kilometre. In the video below, you can hear me make the comment that there did not appear to be the lift that we knew we had because we had used scales to measure the lift. We could not feel the downdraft pushing the balloon down 15 metres above our heads. I mistakenly thought my lack of “feel” was because of the others also holding the payload. We released the payload and balloon and then our hopes sank as the payload only lifted slowly and then sank back to the ground. We ran to catch it, but it rose again and caught on the edge of the eve of the roof of a nearby wheat silo. It stayed there for only 2 minutes, but it felt like an eternity before it released. It rose quickly as calculated, but one tracker had had its GPS unit disconnected and the other had its antenna twisted 90 degrees effectively lowering the power considerably. None the less we could still track the flight – mostly.

One tracker disabled, but still sending its ID at full power, The other effectively made to look low power. Those GoPro cameras are great. hundred of metres above the ground you can hear (faintly) people talking and a dog barking! They make great gear.

Failure Two

The weather balloons are meant to explode and disintegrate. This one did not. The entire balloon, well over 1Kg fell into the parachute and tangled itself in the chute, effectively making the mass look like more like a tangled flag than a parachute. It slowed the payload in the thick air, but the fall from its maximum height was rapid and the entire fall from 30km only took 15 minutes. This was an average speed of 120kph. Given that the payload probably hit the ground at 30 to 40kph, the initial speed was probably close to 400kph in the thin upper air.

With the tracker only giving us effectively a poor signal, the last track that we received in one of the vehicles headed to the landing site was 2 km above the ground making the landing site potentially one square kilometre.  We also fond out later that the second tracker was never going to give us a signal, because the impact had caused a battery to eject from its holder. We only had one ID every 20 seconds and no GPS location! We used a directional antenna to lead us to the payload, but it was a slow and painful task.

The video below shows the impact and the wooden spars breaking. The camera continued to record! Nothing like a good wiring system to ensure that power kept flowing from the external battery. I did not mention that we use external batteries. The GoPro’s batteries, even with the additional power pack, just do not last for the entire flight if it goes over 2.5 hours and especially if it is taking both videos and stills – The new GoPros are amazing, but need more power for High Altitude Balloon (HAB) flights.

Initially the video above shows the incredible stability of our payload at 30km altitude. The Balloon explodes at the 30 second mark and then plummets and spins at a sickening rate of a  couple of times a second with the disabled chute causing the spin.  At 1 minute 45 seconds, we cut to an altitude of about 3km and it took 3 minutes to hit the ground at 60kph. At the 4:45 mark, the payload hits and spars shatter. The camera keeps recording. By the way, the big tree lined road is the Mid Western Highway. The payload was kind enough to land in a sheep paddock beside the main road. You can’t ask for better.

The Lesson

The lesson here is that if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. Yes, we have recovered every payload that we have sent up, but good preparations both in the payload design and build is important as are the preparations for recovery on the ground. We even carry poles to remove the payload from trees. We can manage 14 metre trees. After that we will have to look at other methods.

Our preparations will be backup, backup and more backup. Redundancy rules over weight considerations where possible. Systems will be over-engineered and more care will be taken than what appears necessary. Project ThunderStruck will fly while the world watches. Delays will be unacceptable. This was UpLift-20 and again we have 100% successful recovery rate. @0 flown and 20 recovered. As our flights become more aligned to the actual shape of the ThunderStruck aircraft, speeds will dramatically increase on decent and the videos will have way more interesting stuff to show, but these lessons were there to remind us not to get complacent.

Fund Raising – Launch Your Payload to the Stratosphere

The view from 30Km over central NSWFund Raising Payloads to the Stratosphere

Normally, prices start from $3,000, but for the next few weeks we will take your payload to the Stratosphere for $1,200 – almost 1/3 of the normal price. We can do this by sharing the payload and taking three or four small payloads up on our specially designed payload frame. One camera for each payload is included and you can either do video or still images. For $400 more, we will include a second camera if you needed it and the batteries to power it for the entire flight from launch to landing.

Your payload will get to 26Km or more or we fly it again. We are now achieving 30-33km altitude regularly. We will track and recover your payload and provide you with the images or video from the camera. We will give you 4 weeks to publish your photos or video, but we will reserve the rights to also place the pictures or video on our websites. Again, for a small fee, you can also have full rights to the media. Payloads need to be about 200 grams or less, but with some more dollars we can carry more – we need to buy bigger balloons and more helium to compensate. a 3Kg balloon will cost well over $500!

We cannot guarantee the payload safety as there are always lakes and other things, but that will affect our equipment too. Any loses for any reason are unfortunate, but the best we will do is re-fly your payload if you provide a second payload. To easy your minds on the matter of losing payload, after 20 flights, we have always recovered the payload and that includes flights with problems from unforeseen accidents like invisible downdrafts. Mind you we build our payload frames well and they provide extraordinary results.

Clinton Toyota Space Chicken

Clinton Toyota Space Chicken

This is Clintons Toyota “Space Chicken” was on all the covers of the local newspapers and many other papers and media. The outcome far exceeded the cost of the project and the papers did both a pre and post story with pictures.

The quality of our photography is exceptional and this is a still from a video we took of the flight. It was taken at 33,333km.

Occasionally the press get involved in our flights and this may give you more exposure. The video below was taken in Croatia early in 2014. We are well known all over the world. The two flights that took off from the centre of Zagreb were the first to be launched in the country and carrier student payloads for a competition organised by Team Stellar – one of our sponsors.

Contact me on 0448 881 101 if in Australia or +61 448 881 101 if calling from overseas and please leave a voice mail message if I do not answer the phone. You can also email me on contact@projectthunderstruck.org

Some things we can take up for you:

  • A sign with your name and/or logo
  • A photo
  • A mascot or small toy
  • A small science experiment

What we can’t take up:

  • Live animals
  • things that may injure people
  • things that would be of risk to planes if they, for any reason, impacted the craft
  • things taht may disintegrate in extreme cold or extreme low pressure.
  • Things that will interfere with the other payloads or the tracking systems.

There are plenty of other things that we can’t carry, but please talk to us and we will let you know. This is an extremely cost effective offer and requires complete payment up front. We can offer 50% refund if cancelled as we may have already allocated your slot on a flight and paid for materials. One week before the flight, cancellation will not be possible.

Remember these terms are not for our normal flights that are not at discount prices.

The final video is for Bulla Cloud9 Yogurt that we flew into the jet stream and “froze in the clouds”